Earlier this week the Costa Mesa City Council gave unanimous approval for city representatives to attend an upcoming out-of-state convention, though not without discussing the intricacies of doing so on the city's dime.
Mayor Jim Righeimer, Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger, city CEO Tom Hatch and three other city officials are scheduled to attend the International Council of Shopping Centers' annual Las Vegas convention in May, which, according to city staff, helps Costa Mesa "attract and retain top-level retail and dining establishments."
Righeimer and Mensinger are projected to spend $2,310 for the May 19 through 22 conference. Hatch and three other staff members are expected to need $3,050, giving the city an estimated total cost of $5,360. The city, however, budgeted about $7,000 total to cover any possible overages. The Costa Mesa Conference and Visitor Bureau is chipping in $2,200 to pay for a display booth.
Councilwoman Wendy Leece pulled the item from the consent agenda for discussion Tuesday evening, saying that "in the spirit of transparency" she wanted the costs and who is going made public.
She said she understands that it takes years to cultivate relationships that ultimately attract businesses to Costa Mesa, and that the money spent will be a good investment.
But Leece did express concern about the success from the city's attendance last year. Righeimer later responded that it helped revive talks that brought in the Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market at 3151 Harbor Blvd.
Righeimer added that the council's amendments to burdensome parking requirements for sit-down restaurants spurred renewed interest for restaurateurs at the conference to set up shop in Costa Mesa.
"To find out that sit-down restaurants walked away because we had horrible parking [standards] … that was fixed," he said. "We talked to many, many restaurants that will come in there."
Companies "want their flagship restaurant to be in our city," Righeimer added. "They don't want to be in Irvine, they don't want to be in Laguna, they don't want to be in Mission Viejo. They want to be in the eclectic parts of Costa Mesa.
"They want to make a statement in what they're doing."
Righeimer, whose background is in real estate development, called the process a "bit of a romance and a dance." Making some discussions public, he said, can be problematic, though.
"If you starting telling people that you got so-and-so coming — and that's not signed — trust me, other cities are going to dive in and steal them from you. And you don't want that to happen."
Resident Martin Millard praised the city's low business license fee as a good "selling point" to attract future businesses. The maximum fee is $200 annually — a fact that will be advertised during the Las Vegas conference.
Costa Mesans for Responsible Government President Robin Leffler, however, said the fee should be more for larger businesses.
"I kinda think that it might be possible for [Nordstrom] and some of the larger revenue companies to pay a little bit more and help our budget a lot," she said.
Some residents also expressed concern about the proliferation of fast-food restaurants in the city, particularly along Harbor Boulevard. Mensinger replied that Costa Mesa's youth and student population from Orange Coast College, the high schools and other universities frequent them.
"We really can't tell a landowner not to put in something that the market really wants … they eat where they eat," he said, adding that attracting quality sit-down restaurants is still a long-term goal.
Other council matters
The council also approved a resolution that would allow honorably retiring Costa Mesa Police Department officers, at the police chief's discretion, the chance to buy their service weapon at fair-market value.